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  albums - july 2005

   

Richard Davis – Details
With Details, Richard Davis has delivered an album chock full of clinical, exquisitely ‘detailed’ (ahem), production. All puns aside, for the time being anyway, the skill with regard to the production on this album is astounding. It sounds as if an infinite amount of time has been spent on perfecting each kick drum or vocal line or hi-hat, (for me this album has been worth getting to know purely on the basis of how good this guy's hi-hats are…). It’s not often I’m so drawn in the by the style of an album that I have to focus consciously on the content.  

Don’t get me wrong, Davis has a wonderful knack of writing catchy, dubby basslines, it’s just that his melancholy tinged vocal delivery often lacks sufficient emotion to add weight to his words and feels quite sterile. Perhaps this is because Davis often seems to employ his voice more as an instrument than a voice with which to convey specific emotion through the words he uses. Davis’ singing voice sounds like Karl Hyde of Underworld, at times he almost slips into speaking the vocal parts and his English accent is clear to hear. I quite like that. 

It’s difficult to pick out particular tunes worthy of mention as the whole album blends into one smooth trip. I have to confess that having listened to this album a number of times I was ready to dismiss it as dull and uninspiring - then I listened to it through headphones. This made me reassess my opinion rather a lot but then I am a sucker for good production values. 

I could imagine slipping this album on after dinner in my swanky townhouse for some easy listening background music (if I was into ‘easy’ music to put on in the background and had a swanky townhouse). The use of strings, guitar and piano lend the album an air of…well, sophistication I guess. Which brings me to the nagging question I get in the back of my mind when I’m listening to Details: Is this ‘coffee table’ deep house?

Frazer Shelton


The Decemberists – ‘Picaresque’ (Rough Trade)
Long after its US release Decemberist fans this side of the pond will soon be able to enjoy their new record ‘Picaresque’ and enjoy it they will.

As we have come to expect from this band of present day minstrels, ‘Picaresque’ is a collection of tales and fables related through song. They can be full of pomp and bombast as on opener ‘The Infanta’ or be stripped back and bleak like ‘Eli, The Barrow Boy’. Each has its own unique tone and depth and it’s hard not to be drawn into this bizarre world created for you through a host of vintage instrumentation and Colin Meloy’s earnest, frank voice. There is love lost and woe to be told of and trust me you will be hanging off every word of each irresistible tale, none more so than album highlight ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’, a shanty told by a man trapped in the belly of a whale with the object of his intended revenge. It, like most of the record, is haunting, funny and utterly compelling. A grandiose little gem.

Luke Drozd


red.star.line - s/t (Pronoia)
Pronoia come up trumps with another goodie this month. Album opener ' Commercial Suicide' demonstrates all the qualities which I remember from red.star.line's single 'Centerville' - fuzzed-up dirty guitars and great swirling swathes of atmospheric rock like Dinosaur Jnr in their pomp.

Occasional dalliances with sub-Zeppelin style old fashioned rock 'n' roll  and ballads which don't work for me can be forgiven as the bulk of the record is full of foot-stompingly good tracks. Talking of stomping, I'm not sure why or how, but the drums production seems to have been run through a 13 tog duvet in the wash and comes out intriguingly muffled but surprisingly driving. It shouldn't work, but it does. And there are even glimpses of early Therapy? inspired punk metal on tracks like 'Pure' that really get the feet twitching.

The vocal weaknesses that existing on the single are still there and their flatness still gets on my nerves a bit. But there is enough material on this album to dip in and out of that getting bored should not be a problem.

SB


Cub Country – ‘Stay Poor, Stay Happy’ (Broken Horse)
It seems like a lifetime ago that Cub Country released their first record ‘High Uinta High’ of which I was a huge fan. In fact that was 2002 and half way through 2005 we have Cub Country’s (AKA Jeremy Chatlain of Jets to Brazil fame) new album ‘Stay Poor, Stay Happy’ a collection of Americana tinged folk songs in a similar vain to the likes of Josh Rouse.

On songs like ‘Good Job Jer Blues’ or ‘If You Should Fall’ I’m reminded of why I found the first Cub Country record so compelling. Chatlain is able to construct cunningly simple sounding songs that just seem to creep into your subconscious. This is true of a large chunk of the record but sadly not all. For all the simple melodies and earnest appeal there is a streak of mild banality that occasionally sneaks out, a problem that befalls much of this genre (in particular that of Rouse!).

On its better moments ‘Stay Poor, Stay Happy’ is sweet and honest but alas this sincerity can drift towards boredom.

Luke Drozd


Jonathan Geer - Essex
Not a Burberry cap or a customised Ford Fiesta in sight thank christ. Greer hails from Texas and his music is based around what sound like compositions for movie sound tracks. in fact, a lot of them are movie soundtracks and he has collaborated with a number of artists in the Dallas area.

Some of the tracks remind me of some of the early Moby stuff - the type of music which can be turned to instantly as a backdrop for an advert or any other activity which may require some aural wallpaper. It feels odd listening to the Gregorian-style chants in 'Essex Theme' without watching some windswept, misty landscape or seeing a scene from 'The Machinist'. Maybe this is an indictment on our society's constant need for stimulation in that we cannot concentrate on one sense alone long enough to gain any real value from it. But in just the same way as reading a difficult classic is less accessible but ultimately more rewarding than flicking through the latest Barbara Cartland, if you stick with this record, some real depth begins to emerge.

At times the airy keyboards and artificial strings sound a bit retro (probably because Moby has done them to death). But on other tracks such as 'The waiting Room', the production is deliberately grainy and, to return to the visual references, it is the audible equivalent of watching a flaky old black and white film.

This album will definitely not be to everyone's tastes and wouldn't exactly make suitable dinner party music as a cunning interpretation of the 'Psycho' shower stabbing scene cuts across the hors d'heuves in 'The Attack'. But if you enjoy atmospheric musical soundscapes rather than 3 minute pop songs then this may well be rewarding.

SB


Laura Cantrell – ‘Humming By The Flowered Vine’ (Matador)
Its on Matador, it features those wonderful chaps from Calexico, it has got to be good, right? Wrong. This is the meaning of MOR and is essentially a slice of bland country for people who aren’t that bothered about what music they listen to providing whatever it is reasonably pretty and inoffensive. A small step up from Norah Jones I’m afraid.

Luke Drozd


James Apollo - Good Grief (Aquarium)
Poor James Apollo's second album and his beautifully packaged manilla press pack had fallen foul of the UK's Royal Mail service and had been impounded on a dusty shelf somewhere in South Leeds for a month before I eventually got hold of it. But as he states himself, beauty can spring from such sadness and it is with this thought in mind that we gave it a spin.

Very much in the Americana deep west mould, this album could almost be a narration of gigging on the road in a Steinbeckian landscape. You can almost see the tumbleweed and smell the stale bourbon. Apollo possesses a distinctive rasping voice, like Bryan Adams without the pomp and his lyrics should have you in tears. Song titles like 'Dead Men Weigh More [than broken hearts]', 'Long Rope' and 'Loneliness' would hardly get the party going but they do possess a wistful beauty that stops short of being maudlin. If I'd killed my wife and was driving south to cross the border, this would be my soundtrack of choice.

SB


Sufjan Stevens – ‘Illinois’ (Rough Trade)
Ladies and Gentlemen, please settle yourselves, I have some very exciting news. No its not that they are finally repeating Magnum including that last episode where he dies (you wish!). In fact it’s much better than that. Sufjan Stevens is back and he’s brought with him the second of “The 50 States” records! Hoorah!

So yes that’s right we have the return of Mr. Stevens, one of the music worlds most ambitious songwriters currently producing records for the listening public, with ‘Illinois’ a record based around the people, legends, myths and facts about the state in America of the very same name. It brings together elements of his previous records ‘Michigan’ and ‘Seven Swans’, with their honest and hushed beauty, and adds a much more pronounced sense of joy and wonderment. Its boundaries seem to be none exist and can feel operatic at one time and like traditional folk music the next.

As with all his previous work the songs Stevens has constructed on ‘Illinois’ are deeply routed in human emotions, both his own and the telling of others. The subject matter dealt with is broad from ‘John Wayne Gacy’ taking a stark and terrifyingly beautiful look at one of Americas most famous serial killers through diagnoses of Bone Cancer to his own celebration of his love for the city of ‘Chicago’ in a song of the same name. All are handled with a dynamic and accomplished sense of song and composition. In fact it is this that will elevate Stevens and ‘Illinois’ above the heads and shoulders of his contemporaries. The fact of the matter is that in ‘Illinois’ we have the closest thing to that pocket symphony thing that Brian Wilson was always harping on about. Yes really, it's that good.

Sufjan Stevens is simply one of the greatest songwriters currently producing music. He possesses a depth and breadth simply not found in most others and his songs display real beauty and truth alongside elaborately told stories. Cross one space off your ‘Best of 2005’ lists folks because ‘Illinois’ has already filled one of them.

Luke Drozd


Viarosa - Where the Killers Run (Pronoia)
Building on the earlier success of 'Porous', this full length album from Viarosa brings us more from Richard Neuberg and his cohort of seemingly slightly deranged band members. Not deranged in a pyscho way, more like a friendly tramp who sees the world in a slightly different way from the hoi polloi like you and I.

The layered strings and wistful, world weary male-female vocals are still very much in evidence but this longer format allows Viarosa to experiment further with their sound, without ever becoming ponderous. There are bleak but beautiful masterpieces such as 'Boy' and the instrumental 'The Violet Hour' but also room for the inspirational 'Wake' which, with Neuberg's deep vocals and intricate guitar work, could be a latter day Screaming Trees.

Yet another album by a fantastic band who do not bow to the commercial pressures of the modern music industry. As such, my guess is most people will still not have heard of Viarosa by the end of the year. But if you have been fortunate enough to hear this record then you will cherish it.

Shane Blanchard


Autolux - Future Perfect

Kevin Shields must be livid.  Not only have L.A 3 piece Autolux made an album that screams with intensity and colossal waves of WHITE NOISE, they don’t even sound like they’re trying.  In the slightest. 

 

Echoing Spacemen 3’s sonic assaults, their effortless, perfectly crafted drone-pop crashes into you with gale force intensity, forcing you to turn the speakers up to ear bleeding levels.  They don’t even make the timeless mistake of drawing each song to a prolonged and needless jazzturbate end, instead leaving you proudly howling the chorus over the tangled white noise climax.  Even better, on stand out track ‘Sugarless,’ the band have dipped into Kevin Shields bag of magnetic riffs, pulling out the never released, best of My Bloody Valentine.  On their first album. 

 

The pressure never drops below skull fucking either.  ‘Blanket’ has tidal wave guitar screeches that defy explanation while the Beach Boy vocals make it the darkest summer hit on record.  Added to the pulsating ‘Plantlife,’ a reverb heavy belter that creeps up and lashes you with thunderbolt guitar squalls and you have an album that jolts your senses, caressing and crushing in equal measures. 

 

Sublime and majestic, Autolux have created an album the whole world has been waiting 10 years to hear.  Just don’t tell Kevin. 

Andy Buchan


America Is Waiting - 'In the Lines' (August Spies Collective)
'In the Lines' is released by August Spies Collective, an offshoot of the magnificent Captains of Industry label. And if you have heard anything of COI then you will know what to expect - hi energy, loud punk-pop-indie-rock with a DIY ethic.

COI don't often have any duff releases and it seems that August Spies Collective is starting off in the same vein. America is Waiting are from deepest Texas apparently but they clearly had a full set of records from the east coast's Fugazi when they were growing up. Instrumentation, melodies and vocal harmonies are extremely similar in many places. If you are going to sound like someone else then you may as well make it sound like the best. 'In the Lines' is a throbbing political beast of a record that seldom lets you stop to draw breath, let alone decipher the political message.

If you missed out on Fugazi first time around and want a sharpened up, fearless and unremitting version fit for the 21st century then look no further. if you are looking for the new Muse, then go and read NME.

SB


Architecture in Helsinki – In Case We Die (Moshi Moshi)
Like The Arcade Fire before them, Architecture in Helsinki have received massive hype before the event. However, tasty is here to reassure you that the hype is justified. ‘In Case We Die’ is one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard.
This is a band who’ve been compared to Hidden Cameras and Talking Heads, among others, but on this evidence they’re better than both of them put together, times ten, to the power of five. Indeed, there’s a couple of songs half way through this awesome album – ‘The Cemetry’ and ‘Frenchy, I’m Faking’ that are so damn cute that I think I’ve fallen totally in love with this band forever.

Their sound? Imagine Huggy Bear playing the hits of The Lucksmiths with a brass band in the background. Yes, that saucy.
Architecture in Helsinki make me wish I was 18 years old again, and hadn’t been subjected to all the shite that life can throw at you, because if I’d heard this 14 years ago, I wouldn’t have cared what happened next. This is all you need, believe me.

Sam Metcalf


Damage - Velocity (Red Letter)
Damage sound nothing like America is Waiting. The press release for this Orange County based three piece is a bit confusing. Apparently Orange county is 'a hot bed for some of the country's most dynamic and progressive new sounds' yet they sound like Stone Temple Pilots from ten years ago. They are 'aggressively DIY' yet charter a luxury bus 'loaded with beer and [sic] booze and hot looking girls'. It's not exactly the same as travelling up the M1 in the back of a transit van borrowed from your brother's mate Geoff, trying not to be sick as the smell from the leaky petrol tank combines with the remnants of the greasy burger you had to buy next door to the venue because you had five minutes between unloading, sound checking and playing.

So if you fancy some reasonably good west coast rock with very much a sanitised Brendan O Brien type production sound, then fill your boots. There are moments of real promise and a reasonably taut pace all the way through. The warbling gruff vocals so beloved of US soft rock bands began to get on my nerves after a couple of tracks but if you can get over that then you may well survive to finish that burger.

SB


Funeral For A Friend –Hours (Atlantic)
Jeepers, FFAF are angry young pups. They don’t piss about here, it’s straight on with the Fisher Price emo. And is it just me, or is the same riff circulating throughout this dreary album?  There is absolutely nothing lovely, nothing to cherish, nothing remotely pop here, just a cold wall of noise. Maybe that’s what they set out to do. But I’m too old to be angsty…well most of the time, anyway. File under ‘Mum, can I paint by bedroom walls black?’

Sam Metcalf


Robert Temple and his Soul-Folk Ensemble - What Would You Do? (Broken Pretzel)
With a description like 'Soul-Folk Ensemble', alarm bells should be ringing. This is the stuff of countless Jools Holland sessions while the dwarfish one tinkles away on the electric piano and duets with the finger picking guitar players. But beneath this obvious description lies an overtly political album, full of biting lyrics (though in places this spills over into the cringeworthily obvious such as in title track 'What Would You Do'.)

This kind of lounge-based 'soul-funk' instantly gets me thinking of men in suits sipping drinks at red velvet covered tables, gently tapping their feet along to the tunes. Which is why the content of the lyrics is perhaps so arresting. Good for Robert Temple in trying to raise some awareness/documenting the current woes of the world. But musically, this breaks no new ground and could be easily consigned to a late night slot on Radio 3.

SB


Sartorial Records - Sampler Compilation (Sartorial)
This is a sampler for Sartorial records, a label I’ve never heard of, but a way for Terry Edwards and friends to bring their music to us, via www.terryedwards.com. Clearly Edwards loves music and maybe this record suffers from its wanton diversity but it’s only £4.99 and you should buy it for the instrumentals, particularly Asthma, a sauntering brooding number, this is Ska you’d want to screw to. A couple of Madness turn up in BUtterfield 8 and provide more instrumental brilliance. There’s a speed metal version of Miles Davis. Lydia Lynch turns up on a couple of tracks. One I admit I hated but the other ‘I like my lowlife low’ is outrageous and stunning. The ‘Higson’s’ (The comedian Charlie Higson’s former band) also provide some songs but I’m afraid this more of a case of don’t call us, we’ll call you. Edward’s saxophone playing is magnificent, whether wrapping round Lynch’s panting or leading the band in a vocal style.

I defy you not to find something you like on this record, it’s chaos but undoubtedly stupendous and I’m glad it’s in my life.

MJL


The Bluefoot Project - Brave (Chocolate Fireguard)
The world can be a weird place. Wakefield's The Bluefoot Project are marketed by Beverly Hills-based Luck Media who sent this CD to Leeds (just a few miles away from Wakefield) all the way from the US.

The band have received rave reviews for their live sets and early reviews of this album. I'm afraid I'm not a massive fan, though 'Brave' would make for agreeable holiday music. My main beef is the very strength of the voice of singer Rachel Modest. She surely does have a powerful delivery which would be right at home on a more up tempo chart-type pop release or as an R'n'B diva. But the instrumentation on this album is particularly mellow, intricate and subdued. What could be a perfectly good Cafe del Mar style affair is completely overpowered by an overemphasis on the vocals. Sorry.

SB


Ejector Seat - The Theme is Music Vol 1 Compilation
It's always difficult to review compilations - are you supposed to summarise each artist, give an overview, comment on the composition etc? Fortunately, Ejector Seat, two like-minded promoters on the south coast of England seem to very much up tasty's street. Putting music on for the sake of getting great bands heard by a wider audience is what it is all about. Trying to make money out of artists who often have barely enough cash to splash out on a roll of gaffer tape to strap together their battered gear is not the way forward. And they even have similar tastes to the tasty team  - 65 Days of static, iLiKETRAiNS, Love Ends Disaster, Bearsuit etc. We are a match made in heaven.

Which is why I am not going to bother describing this CD in any great detail. Suffice to say it is of the highest quality and at 17 tracks (which works out at 18p per band!) is a must have. There is enough variety in style and pace to keep everyone happy so get yourself to the Ejector Seat website and get buying.

SB

www.ejectorseat.co.uk


Beach - Missing in Action (Sliding Vinyl)
Following on from the savaging which I felt I had to dish out on the single 'Burning Up' this album does not get off to a brilliant start when the first lyrics are 'Nothing's changed...'. So I braced myself for another trip into medocrity and battled on.

On the plus side - this album was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. The plus side of writing formulaic guitar rock with 80's synth sensibilities is that chord progressions never wander off, percussion is strictly reined in just to provide greater punch to the rawk guitar and the bass will religiously follow the chord progressions. Which is why stuff like this is so popular as driving music or is played in shops or makes its way onto adverts. You don't have to think about it, your reflexes simply take over, you find yourself humming along, tapping a foot and eventually start drooling at the mouth.

On the downside, Beach sounds like Bryan Ferry on tranquilisers (perhaps to help him forget all the shenanigans that Ferry junior got up to in the Houses of Parliament). Perk it up a bit Mr Beach (if I may call you that).

So fair play, he's self recorded and written a pretty reasonable middle of the road album. But with Mothers Day over and Christmas not for another 6 months, it's hard to see which relatives you could palm this release off onto.

SB


La Cedille - Vu Du Large (Chocolate Fireguard)
Hip hop? French hip-hop? In tasty? I don't think so.

SB